We feel your frustration
October 21, 1998
As one of the three Americans expelled from Chiapas back in April, the subject of Chris Thompson’s article “Revolutionary Tourists,” I am writing to express my frustration with your editorial policy in running the article.
While it is wonderful that the war in Chiapas is finally getting some due attention in the national alternative press, this article is a less-than-dignified way to publicize the issue. When the MoJo Wire made the decision to run the article, back in August, I had hoped to see some changes made before publication. I e-mailed Eric Umansky three times and left at least as many phone messages, specifically requesting that he hear my perspective before running the article. The fact that the piece has been run and that no effort was made to contact me shows a lack of journalistic integrity and makes it clear to this reader that Mother Jones is not interested in getting at the truth of complex issues, even when it comes knocking at the door.
My complaints are several: To begin with, the tone of the article is one of a highly romanticized espionage game focusing on our personalities and backgrounds more than on the work itself. The real issue—what the Zapatistas are fighting for and why it occurred to us to risk our lives in the struggle—was not touched upon. But this is merely an issue of bad writing and bad taste. Or, to give credit where it’s due, this was perhaps appropriate for a local paper (East Bay Express) where the article first appeared, as a human interest story about members of the local community; but it is hardly appropriate in the context of national news.
The article also contains several misquotes and information that is clearly invented. The barometer of this tendency on the part of Thompson is in the second-to-last-paragraph, when he writes of my “scuffle” with a thief in Oakland. Including this in the article is ridiculous enough, but the fact that Thompson wrote that I “broke two fingers on the assailant’s jaw” is simple exaggeration. I broke one finger, true enough, and I made this clear to Thompson; in my opinion the two fingers is a case of 100 percent hyperbole. I point this out merely to clarify the writer’s tendency towards the hyperbolic.
The war in Chiapas is already dramatic, as was our time there, from the entrance into the communities to the invasion of Taniperla and our subsequent arrest and expulsion. If portrayed by a competent writer—and one familiar with the issues—the story needs no embellishment.
The story also misrepresents our role in the communities. For example, Thompson has me claiming that the Mayan villagers of Chiapas had no understanding of sanitation until we came along: “Conant was amazed to consider that five Americans who knew nothing about raising pigs or sanitation did what had never occurred to Chiapas peasants.” The issue is much more complex than that and Thompson neglects to give its proper context. We continually worked with the communities in reaching solutions. At best our presence gave impetus to the projects where a need was already recognized. In this particular instance, part of the issue is different cultural understandings of sanitation and health—it is not that we know more than them regarding sanitation, it is that our conceptions are different. I wish that Thompson would have taken on the entire issue here rather than simply paraphrasing my “amazement.”
This kind of writing makes room for the kind of unconscious racism that mars even the most well-intentioned “development” work. It is exactly this kind of simplistic understanding that we always tried to avoid in our interactions with the villagers.
I would hope that, in the future, Mother Jones might show more respect to those of us whose hard work makes these stories happen (and more so to the villagers who literally surrender their lives for the cause), at the very least by responding to phone calls and accepting an experienced perspective, rather than the immediately available version of events.
Actually, we caught that one too
October 21, 1998
What about the “intelligence authorization” legislation passed by both the House and Senate?
The roving wiretap provision was inserted at the last minute, forcing our representatives to either vote for or against the entire provision.
Naturally, it passed, making us all victims of the paranoia of the numerous federal law agencies.
October 20, 1998
Gee, it looked like a fascinating article.
Trouble is, my 47-year old eyes couldn’t read the excessively “fine” print of the various proposals from the Air Force Brigadier General.
Bonnie Jean Spencer
No talking allowed at Salon
October 17, 1998
Media people can’t handle the truth about themselves—look at Salon who fired an editor because he disagrees with the slimy way the paper is headed.
That makes it 80 percent con and 20 pro
October 22, 1998
Just wanted to say I think the site redesign is great!
I actually don’t remember exactly what it looked like before, but I know that I’d been to the site and decided that it wasn’t going to be added to my bookmark list of news sources.
After visiting today, I see it must have had something to do with the design, because the content is great. Obviously something has been changed in the design that helps me to appreciate it better.
October 21, 1998
I just clicked onto your site for the first time (Microsoft coverage), and I must say…it’s ugly (or, as my sis says, fugly). The green side bar dominates, makes me woozy and puts me in mind of the Grinch for some reason. And, I don’t see the point of all the lines. Less is more! For purposes of comparison, I just went to hotwired, and yup it’s less ugly. But hey, MoJo is a way cool name, so keep working on it.
October 20, 1998
Love the site content. Like the redesign intent. It looks awful on IE 4.0 Windows. And in Opera 3.5. Good luck with the look.